REMARKS BY MR. JUAN E. MÉNDEZ, PRESIDENT OF THE
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
AND SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON MIGRANT WORKERS AND THEIR FAMILIES
WORKING MEETING OF
THE COMMITTEE ON JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE
ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
D.C., April 4, 2002
Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the
Organization of American States, distinguished Ambassadors and Permanent
Representatives, ladies and gentlemen:
address you for the purpose of presenting a brief overview of the work of
the Special Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and their Families of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and in particular to
outline progress made in connection with the Inter-American Program for
the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants. I begin by recalling that this program was an initiative
promoted by the heads of state and government during the Third Summit of
the Americas, held in April of last year in Quebec City, Canada. As you probably know, on that occasion the maximum
authorities of the region conferred a special mandate on the OAS to
establish an “inter_American
program within the OAS for the promotion and protection of the human
rights of migrants, including migrant workers and their families, taking
into account the activities of the IACHR and supporting the work of the
IACHR Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers and the UN Special Rapporteur
way of introduction and in order to explain the work that the IACHR
performs on behalf of migrant workers and their families, I would like to
begin this presentation by explaining the origins, characteristics, and
activities of the Special Rapporteurship.
Given the growing importance of migration in the last decade, the
IACHR, by virtue of its broad mandate to protect human rights, decided in
1997 to create the Special Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and Their
Families. The creation of this Rapporteurship reflects the interest on
the part of the states in according special attention to a group which, by
virtue of its vulnerability, is especially exposed to human rights
violations. Over the years,
the IACHR has been aware of these persons’ worrisome human rights
situation through on-site visits, complaints that it has received on human
rights violations, and special hearings that have been held to address the
should be clarified that in establishing the Special Rapporteurship, the
IACHR delimited its scope of action to migrant workers and their families
when they are abroad. In this
regard, the IACHR underscored that it would not look into other categories
of those who migrate within their own country, such as internally
displaced persons, stateless persons, refugees, or asylum seekers. Even
so, the IACHR is aware that there are common principles that apply to
those categories, and that internal migrants, refugees, the internally
displaced, stateless persons, and asylum-seekers may on certain occasions
become migrant workers, and vice versa.
In such cases, the Rapporteurship addresses these persons with
respect to their status as migrant workers.
IACHR’s initiative in creating a Special Rapporteurship on Migrant
Workers and Their Families has been well received by the heads of state
and government of the Americas. In
this respect, in the Declaration of the Second Summit of the Americas,
held in Santiago, Chile, in 1998, the heads of state and government of the
Americas indicated: “We will make a special effort to guarantee the
human rights of all migrants, including migrant workers and their
was determined that the Rapporteur would be one of the seven members of
the IACHR. In addition, it was determined that the Rapporteur should be
designated for four years. During
its first period (1997-2000), the Rapporteurship was entrusted to
Colombian historian Alvaro Tirado Mejía. Later, during its 106th regular
session, held in March 2000, the IACHR designated me Special Rapporteur.
carry out his work, the Special Rapporteur receives support from the
Executive Secretariat of the IACHR, and a small team.
At present, this team is made up of one attorney from the IACHR
Secretariat, on a part-time basis, and a consultant specialized in
migration issues. In
addition, and taking advantage of my ties with Notre Dame University, of
late I have involved some of my students and research assistants in the
work of the Rapporteur.
Special Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers has several objectives.
The following are among the most important: (a) to foster awareness
of the duty of states to respect the human rights of migrant workers and
their families; (b) to present specific recommendations to the member
states of the OAS on matters related to the protection and promotion of
the human rights of these persons, so that measures may be adopted on
their behalf; (c) to prepare reports and specialized studies on the
situation of migrant workers and on issues related to migration in
general; and (d) to act swiftly in response to petitions or communications
that indicate that the rights of migrant workers and their families are
violated in any member state of the OAS.
The Rapporteurship furthers these four aims through different
actions and activities in keeping with its mandate and the scope of action
of the IACHR.
respect to the presentation of petitions, the IACHR is currently
considering several cases of alleged violations of the human rights of
migrant workers and their families in the member countries of the OAS.
These include two cases against the Dominican Republic regarding the
expulsion or threat of expulsion of Haitian citizens and Dominicans of
Haitian origin, and two cases against Costa Rica regarding the expulsion
of Nicaraguan citizens. In addition, last December the IACHR held a special hearing
to look into a case against the United States involving the deaths of
Mexican and Central American immigrants while crossing the border between
Mexico and the United States in unpopulated areas.
The case is now being studied to determine whether it is
I should note that last year the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
handed down a judgment on the right to nationality in Peru, and that the
IACHR adopted a report on citizens of Cuban origin who left the country
during the 1980s in a boat lift from the port of Mariel, and who were
detained for a prolonged period by the U.S. authorities.
my term, the Rapporteurship has undertaken a series of activities to
advance the objectives set by the IACHR. With respect to the work of
monitoring the status of migrant workers and their families, as well as
issues of general issues related to migration, the Rapporteurship is
undertaking several actions. Monitoring
migration developments helps the team of the Rapporteurship acquire a
broader view and a better understanding of the complex situation of
migrant workers and their families in the member states of the OAS.
Among its monitoring activities, the Rapporteurship is studying
changes in migration-related legislation and debates related to migration
policies in the member states of the OAS.
The Rapporteurship is also dedicating time to observe the evolving
contraband, conveyance, and illicit trafficking in migrants, as well as
the states’ responses to this growing problem.
Furthermore, the Rapporteurship is engaged in studies on how the
difficult economic and political situation in several states of the region
has increased pressures to migrate and has also had a negative impact on
how migrant workers and their families are treated in some countries.
The Rapporteurship is also closely following the changes in
legislation on migration and control measures in the Americas as a result
of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., last September.
part of the activities related to its mandate, the Rapporteurship is also
making contacts with governments to carry out on-site visits.
These visits are of great importance, given that they make it
possible to observe, on the ground, the conditions of migrant workers.
In this regard, from November 19 to 21, 2001, with instructions
from the Rapporteur and support from the Executive Secretariat of the
IACHR, two members of the team visited Costa Rica for the purpose of
collecting information on the situation of migrant workers.
The Rapporteurship wrote a complete report that was recently sent
to the state for comment and suggestions.
That report, along with the state’s comments, will be included in
our next annual report. Meanwhile,
I am pleased to note the broad spirit of cooperation with which the
illustrious Government of Costa Rica received my team.
couple of weeks ago, responding to an invitation from the Government of
Guatemala, together with my team I visited Guatemala for six days.
During that mission, we had occasion to meet with government
officials and representatives of inter-governmental organizations and
civil society who are engaged in actions to support migrant workers and
their families. The
Rapporteurship will prepare a complete report on the situation of migrant
workers in Guatemala, and it will present recommendations to the
Government of Guatemala, and to inter-governmental organizations and civil
society organizations that interact with this population. Furthermore, I am pleased to report that the Rapporteurship
has agreed with the Government of Mexico to visit Mexico next May.
part of its activities, the Rapporteurship is also participating regularly
in conferences and inter-governmental fora in which problems related to
migration are discussed. In
this connection, it should be noted that the IACHR participates as an
observer in the Regional Conference on Migration (RCM), an
inter-governmental forum made up of 11 countries, including Belize,
Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United States.
I should reiterate: attending inter-governmental fora on migration
issues such as the one just mentioned enables the Rapporteurship to make
important contacts and receive valuable information, and develop working
relationships with the officials in charge of migration policy in each
regards the development of institutional ties with inter-governmental
organizations and civil society organizations that work on behalf of
migrant workers, the Rapporteurship’s team holds meetings and has
contacts with various organizations dedicated to studying and monitoring
migration in the Americas. Those
meetings serve as a framework for undertaking joint activities and
exchanging information aimed at supporting initiatives aimed at ensuring
well-being and respect for the fundamental rights of migrant workers and
their families. Among the
organizations with which the Rapporteurship has held meetings are the
International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Latin American
Demographic Center (CELADE), and civil society organizations such as the
Regional Network of Civil Society Organizations on Migration (RNCOM).
Rapporteurship also dedicates part of its time to research. In its last
two annual reports, the Rapporteurship has included chapters on various
issues related to migration and the protection and safeguarding of the
human rights of migrant workers and their families. In the last year, for
example, my team researched issues such as the economic impact of
migrations, and problems related to the contraband, conveyance, and
illicit trafficking of migrants. These
reports have been included in the annual Rapporteur’s reports. In this
respect, I should note that the IACHR has considered it necessary to
produce annual progress reports on different aspects of migration from a
human rights perspective. This
approach has been adopted instead of presenting a single report on the
situation of migrant workers and their families in the region, for such a
report would be difficult to produce given the scale and complexity of the
problem, and, especially in view of the resources available. The
Rapporteurship intends to enrich its annual reports analyzing and
discussing migration; it is hoped that they help raise awareness of the
importance of migration in the Americas and of the states’ duty to
respect and ensure the human rights of migrant workers and their families.
offered a brief summary of the work and objectives of the Rapporteurship,
I would like to focus the rest of my remarks on progress attained in the
Inter-American Program for the Promotion and Protection of the Human
Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families. Picking up on the concern
expressed by the leaders of the OAS member states, the Rapporteurship has
undertaken to plan that program and to design some of its possible
activities. Our plans include
holding training seminars on human rights, and conferences to discuss
migration-related issues, and publishing reports on various issues
directly related to the situation of migrant workers in the Americas.
It is our hope that the debates at these activities will result in
specific proposals for new standards to protect the rights of migrant
workers, to be enacted in domestic law and internationally.
this vein, in the course of this year the Rapporteurship held meetings
with representatives of the IOM to study the possibility of organizing a
joint program of promotion and education activities in the context of the
Inter-American Program for the Promotion and Protection of the Human
Rights of Migrants. In the year 2000, the IACHR and the IOM signed a
framework agreement for cooperation.
Representatives of the IOM traveled last January to IACHR
headquarters in Washington to meet with the Executive Secretariat of the
IACHR and with the Special Rapporteur for Migrant Workers, for the purpose
of debating the contents of the possible Inter-American Program. As part
of these conversations, the IACHR is studying the feasibility of holding
seminars and workshops to provide training to government officials and
members of civil society working with migrant workers and their families.
The workshops aim not only to sensitize government officials and members
of civil society as to the condition of migrant workers, but also to offer
information and training so that these persons can perform their functions
efficiently, with respect for human rights.
addition, last December members of my team met with representatives of the
Latin American Demographic Center (CELADE) of the Economic Commission for
Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to organize a hemispheric seminar
on migration and human rights. Tentatively,
the activity is to be held next September at ECLAC headquarters in
Santiago, Chile; the co-organizers will be the IOM, the United Nations
Development Program (UNDP), and the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights. The seminar will be attended by key experts
in migration and human rights from North America, South America, Central
America, and the Caribbean. Through
the Rapporteurship, the IACHR has committed to participate.
In addition, the Rapporteurship has held preliminary conversations
with the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago to participate
in a research project that will link human rights, migration, and economic
development. The discussions
point to holding conferences and publishing studies on the issue.
Similarly, as part of the efforts to publish reports and studies on
migration, the Rapporteurship arrived at an agreement with Villanova
University, of the United States, to undertake a joint study on
comparative legislation on migration-related issues. The Rapporteurship considers it important to become involved
in academic discussions on migration, so as to include different points of
view on this complex problem. A
rigorous analysis of this problem would no doubt contribute to the design
and implementation of public policies that guarantee and protect the
rights of migrant workers in the Americas.
We think that this effort could eventually be part of the
Inter-American Program for the Promotion and Protection of the Human
Rights of Migrants.
Rapporteurship expects to be in a position to offer a more detailed and
complete analysis of such an Inter-American Program in coming months.
conclude, I would like to take the opportunity of your presence here today
to request, through you, support for the work of the Rapporteurship.
Unfortunately, despite the interest expressed by the member states
of the OAS in promoting activities aimed at improving the situation of
migrant workers, such as the above-mentioned Inter-American Program, our
work has been seriously limited by lack of financial support. In this
regard, until last year the activities of the Rapporteurship could not
have been covered were it not for a small contribution from the general
fund of the OAS, and a contribution of US$ 50,000 from the Government of
Mexico to the voluntary fund instituted by the IACHR when the
Rapporteurship was created. This
year the Rapporteurship obtained resources through a new grant of US$
25,000 from the Government of Mexico, and it has furthered initiatives to
obtain economic support from the Ford Foundation.
Despite these contributions, to be able to continue its work the
Rapporteurship needs new financial contributions from the OAS member
states. The states’
contributions to the voluntary fund of the Rapporteurship established by
the Executive Secretariat is vital for promoting an Inter-American Program
for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrant Workers.
Moreover, getting many different contributions, even if small,
would greatly help confer legitimacy and acceptance on the Inter-American
Program, and on all the tasks of the Rapporteurship.
In this regard, I should note that it was precisely the states who
entrusted the IACHR with the creation of that program, and that without
financial support to undertake this important project, it will be
extremely difficult. Accordingly, I take this opportunity to make an appeal to the
ambassadors and representatives assembled here, to take the initiative
vis-à-vis your respective governments, as to the pressing need for the
Rapporteurship to receive new resources to develop its work and to carry
out the above-mentioned Inter-American Program for the Promotion and
Protection of the Human Rights of Migrant Workers.
you very much for your consideration.